By Emily Mullen
With Mother’s Day breathing down our necks and telling us to tuck in our shirts, we examine some of the best characters in film who just happen to be mothers.
The notion that there is a superior form of motherhood over another is a questionable one. It dredges up murky viewpoints about what a mother should or shouldn’t be. These viewpoints are by-in-large informed and reinforced by how the people questioning, have been mothered themselves. And to quantify what makes a good mother is to cast shade on those that are perceived as not being that.
It also suggests that it’s all or nothing, a good mother or a bad mother. When there’s no silver bullet. No formula that explains what a good mother is or isn’t. Mothering relies on so many factors. And it’s ultimately done by people who were a human before motherhood and who are still humans afterwards. While film has always strived to reflect some semblance of humanity, there has been a predominant depiction of mothers as either a no-nonsense nurturer who is still the fixer of hearty meals for main characters or as a fecklessly earnest ninny who flounces around in sickeningly-sweet florals.
The fact is there’s a lot of different characters who happen to be mothers and we’ve collected the best of them:
Following a showing at Toronto International Film Festival, director Taika Waititi described Jojo Rabbit as “a love letter to mothers” and described the character of Rosie Betzler as the “only grounded character” in the film. Betzler is certainly grounded, and the single mother is also highly compassionate and empathetic. She’s also pretty badass in the face of Nazi Germany, demonstrated through her fearless protection of Jewish teenager, Elsa. Betzler always attempts to ensure the emotional wellbeing of her highly impressionable child Jojo is solid, in spite of his indoctrinated beliefs. Her light touch parenting helps to guide him safely out of his embedded political beliefs. Betzler is not defined by the complexities of her child, without him she is a highly formed character, who is well-traveled, knowledgeable. Neither is she defined by her situation, she’s always quick to act silly, and is never afraid to laugh at herself or to joke with others.
Ending her career as a trained assassin with the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad when she became pregnant with Bill’s baby, Beatrix Kiddo fled and adopted a new identity. Naturally, this didn’t go down too well with her former coworkers, and Beatrix ended up in a coma with a bullet in her head. Waking up from the coma in a hospital after being abused by a rapist is not the best entry into motherhood, but Beatrix was clear of mind until she found her daughter, B.B. Unfortunately for Beatrix, Bill’s caring for her daughter meant an indoctrination into a world of murder and an exercise of masculine control, one that Beatrix knows all too well. Beatrix eventually ends this cycle (with yes you guessed it more murder) and rescues her daughter. While not your typical mom, Beatrix is certainly a fearless, tenacious, and all-around murdering badass.
As if being pregnant and minding three kids wasn’t enough, Evelyn Abbott in A Quiet Place attempts to navigate through a world destroyed by extraterrestrial creatures who hunt through sound. Together with her husband, the pair are quick to understand, adapt, and built what’s required to survive in this post-apocalytic world. Her kids emotional wellbeing is important as is their education and in spite of what is happening in the world, she still home schools them. Despite greaving the deaths of her son and then her husband, Abbott’s fortitude allows her to overcome and compartmentalise. Tough-as-nails with a frightening ability to overcome pain, she’s a serious character.
To use her own words, Morticia Addams is “just like any modern woman trying to have it all. Loving husband, a family. It’s just… I wish I had more time to seek out the dark forces and join them on their hellish crusade.” What’s clear is that Addams is the glue that holds her bizarre aristocratic clan together, she unifies and pulls the invisible strings necessary to alleviate their problems. With her pose and distinctiveness, she’s become an unlikely symbol of femininity and glamor. Her savage red nails, her sweeping black gowns, and her flowing hair have spawned thousands of Halloween outfits. Her self-containment and lack of societal mores have drawn fans to her. Sure she has some sinister hobbies but she’s also musically inclined, a linguist, a seasoned cook and gardener.
The character of Claireece Precious Jones in Precious is not the first place your mind would go to when you consider mothers in film. She does try and give her kids- who were born as a result of incestuous rape- a better life than she had, by distancing herself from her monstrous parents. She also attempts to break the cycle of anger and abuse, which in her circumstances is nothing short of impossible. The abuse shown towards Precious and her kids is hard to comprehend, scene sticks out, shortly after her second child Abdul is born Precious’s mother purposely drops him on the ground and then attacks her daughter. Precious’s daydreaming helps her a lot, with her expressive inner life, she dreams big and imagines herself as a star. But Precious’s big dreams translate into a more manageable achievement through a special education program she learns to read and write. With the support of a sympathetic teacher, Precious manages to drive a wedge through herself and her mother after finally seeing her for what she is. Ultimately Precious grabs her kids and leaves, stepping into what you would hope is a better life than the one she came from (which wouldn’t be hard).
Embroiled in a seemingly endless battle against male corporate types and dealing with an all-encompassing dysfunction of her mired family is Joy, a character who still somehow comes across as kickass and unshakeable. While working a series of dead-end jobs, Joy somehow manages to take of three generations of her family. She doesn’t settle for what life has given her though. Fuming at the way she is continuously ripped off and let down, Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy grits her teeth grabs her self-wringing mop, and perseveres. While never irradiating her family’s problems, Joy’s success certainly alleviates some of them.
Warm, embracing, and hastener of lovely food to her seven children and all those in their orbit, is Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter franchise. Unabashed about her topsy-turvy home, Molly puts her money worries aside and tries to make the gallons stretch as far as possible for her kids. Indulgent of her husband’s eccentricities, and his financially questionable career path, she emphasizes his and her family’s happiness over all else. Her worries are large, exacerbated by her family’s involvement in the fight against Voldemort. In the final battle, the extent of her power can be seen when she takes on one of the most violent death eaters and kills her.
The true icon of the Terminator series, Sarah Connor had to be number 1. Starting out as a young damsel in distress waitress in James Cameron’s The Terminator, Connor has transformed herself and the entire franchise into something extraordinary. She’s central to every single one of the films, whether she appears in them or not. Her being a mother is tied up in the entire Terminator premise. By giving birth and readying John for war, she ultimately saves humanity from the machines. Not just a mother to John, she also tutors him by teaching him to fight and plan for the upcoming war. She’s a headstrong heroine, who can still see beyond herself and recognize the importance of her son’s mission. But still, she would do literally anything to protect him.
Elsewhere on District: 9 empowering female characters that changed our TV screens